September 28, 2016 4:40 PM

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. He was taken away from his home in Asmara, Eritrea, Sept. 21, 2001, and hasn't been seen since.

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. He was taken away from his home in Asmara, Eritrea, Sept. 21, 2001, and hasn't been seen since.

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. Human Rights Watch would like to see that he is not forgotten.

As part of its Free Them campaign to highlight political prisoners around the globe, the rights group is focusing attention on Seyoum, the former head of Eritrean state television, who was taken from his Asmara home by government agents on September 21, 2001, and has not been seen or heard from since.

 

Seyoum was part of a group of Eritrean journalists rounded up in a crackdown on independent media. Using the hashtag #FreeThem, Human Rights Watch is encouraging people to share Seyoum's story, hold events and tweet to world leaders asking for his release.

Seyoum's advocates believe he is still alive, based on a comment that Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh made to Radio France Internationale in June.

"The political prisoners are all alive and in good hands," he said.

"Good hands" might be an inaccurate term. A former prison guard who escaped Eritrea in 2010 said Seyoum's hands were bound 24 hours a day. The guard also said that the journalist was being held at the maximum security prison north of Asmara.

The Eritrean government has never commented on Seyoum's arrest or disclosed his location or condition. His family and friends have not had access to him since he was taken away.

Niece seeks uncle's release

Seyoum's 19-year-old niece Vanessa Berhehas been campaigningfor her uncle's release for years. She started a website,onedayseyoum.com, to raise awareness of his plight.

She led a silent protest September 23 in London in which people wore black bandanas over their mouths and marched silently to the Eritrean embassy. Berhe said she hopes the attention will pressure Eritrean leaders to at least offer a trial for the jailed journalists and political dissidents.

"The main purpose was to stand in solidarity and in that action also to stand in protest. So our act of solidarity was also an act of protest," she told VOA. "What we're calling for and what we've been calling for since day one is to give these people a fair trial. I mean we think they should be released, but if there is any doubt of their innocence, give them due justice and a trial." 

Seyoum, 66, was a famed war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Between 1998 and 2000, during Eritrea's war with Ethiopia, Seyoum was critical of the government's secrecy and increasing restrictions on free speech and democracy. He apparently made enemies.

The state-run television continues to use his photographs during their broadcasts.

"If they use his materials on television fairly regularly, or frequently anyway, why don't they release him?" asks Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch.

Family still hopeful

Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.


Berhe said her family hasn't given up hope of seeing him again and believes the campaign will draw the attention of more people.

"He believed in the power of the word, the power of the people and the power of democracy, and I want to show him that what he believed in was strong enough to get him released," she said.

Seyoum's wife and two daughters now live in France. The older daughter, Abie, was two years old when the government arrested her father, and his wife was seven months’ pregnant with their youngest daughter, Beilula.

"The youngest one doesn't have any memories because she never met him. It's very tough for her," Berhe said. "The fact that she doesn't even have any memories and no connection with him whatsoever and that it is impossible to get it because he is imprisoned is something that she's been carrying with her for a very long time."

 

Human Rights Watch said it plans to continue the Free Them campaign, addressing a different case each week. Unfortunately, Stroehlein said, there is no danger that the rights group will run out of cases.

"We can literally do one political prisoner every hour, and we still wouldn't scratch the surface of a number of people that we're talking about around the world," Stroehlein said. "We're looking at a lot of regimes that are actually getting worse and worse, that are jailing civil society and activists, opposition figures more and more.”

"There's a huge number and so you know it's not fair to take one person over the others,” he added, “but if one person is a symbol for the others, it might be able to put a face on this kind of persecution."

 

Thousands of people flee the country illegally every month to skip military service, but getting out is too expensive for most

 
Passangers wait for a bus in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.
People wait for a bus in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Life is hard for those who cannot afford a border crossing. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Outside a cafe on the crossroads of a busy intersection in Asmara, three 25-year-olds sip macchiatos and catch up on the latest gossip in the bright morning sunshine. The conversation soon turns to people who have “skipped”, a term for those who have fledEritreato escape the indefinite national service programme.

Birhane, 25, who works as a mechanic in a government-owned garage, said: “Between us, we probably know about 300 people who have skipped in the last few years. They are leaving because we have to do what the government tells us to do.”

In 1991, when Birhane, Henok and Adonay were born, Eritrea had just gained independence fromEthiopiaafter 30 years of war. In the early years, many people were optimistic about their future and their leaders.

Today, theatmosphere in Asmarais markedly different. Isaias Afewerki, the former leader of the liberation struggle, is still in power 25 years later, and a resumption of hostilities with Ethiopia at the turn of the millennium inflicted huge human and economic damage on the country, exacerbating its slide into a military state.

In the capital, although bicycles and charming old European cars dot the roads and the ambitious Italian colonial-era architecture is well preserved, more than a dozen people said they were desperately gathering cash to pay forsigre dob(border crossing).

Gaim Kibreab, a professor of refugee studies at London South Bank University, says Eritrea is the world’s “fastest emptying nation”. About 400,000 people are estimated to have left the country in the past decade,from a population of just 5.1 million.

The UN and human rights activists estimate that as many as 5,000 Eritreansflee illegally every month, but the Eritrean government claims that the real number is closer to 1,000, because Ethiopians often pretend to be Eritrean when seeking asylum abroad.

Those left behind in Asmara say everyone is well aware of what is happening. “I know of thousands of people who have left,” said Demsas, 49, as he strolled down one of the main streets. “We can feel it.”

The government acknowledges that people areleaving in droves, but says it is part of an international conspiracy to weaken Eritrea. “The policy of the United States for the past 10 years has been to encourage the migration of Eritreans, especially Eritrean youth and especially Eritrean educated youth,” said Yemane Gebreab, the director of political affairs for the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a close advisor to Afwerki.

“If they can encourage migration and especially desertion from the Eritrean army, which has been a main objective of this policy, then they will have achieved their aim of weakening Eritrea,” he said.

Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts.
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Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

For law-abiding Eritreans, it is hard to avoid the national service programme. Hundreds of soldiers are known to storm neighbourhoods in Asmara every few months. Known as agiffa(raid), troops block off traffic and set up a cordon before going house to house in search of people who have not enlisted.

Young Eritreanssay they feel trappedby these policies. If they are caught deserting, the government hands down brutal punishments. But if they stay, they are resigned to a life earning a monthly wage of 500 nakfa (£25). “All of us are still in national service. We don’t get enough [money] to live on,” Henok said.

The government has recently changed some elements of national service, a sign that the regime may be aware of the damage its policies are causing. Those drafted in 2001 or earlier are being allowed to leave active service, but they are still required to work for the government. The maximum salary offered after demobilisation is 4,000 nakfa, equivalent to $165 on the black market, according to Hagos Ghebrehiwet, the PFDJ director of economic affairs.

Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts, saying it wanted to encourage citizens to use cheques and mobile money facilities. Hagos said: “Cash is the basis for illegal activities, like human trafficking.”

We would all leave tomorrow if we had the money

Adonay

However, very few businesses accept cheques or credit cards, and since the introduction of the rule, the black market dollarexchange rate has halved, leading to speculation that the policy is a covert way to limit the number of people fleeing.

“With this new currency, people don’t have access to their money,” Demsas said. According to human rights activist Meron Estefanos, wealthy Eritreans can pay high-ranking government officials between $5,000 and $6,000 to be smuggled out of the country and driven to Khartoum inSudan. The fee for a similar journey across the border with Ethiopia is $2,000 to $3,000, she said.

For most Eritreans, who do not have rich friends or relatives overseas, the journey to Europe is extremely expensive. Natnael Haile, who lives in Sweden, says he was drafted into the army aged 13. After spending seven years repairing army cars on a desolate military base, he crept out of his dormitory in 2008. Haile paid smugglers $400 to take him to Sudan, where he was kidnapped and sold to nomads in the Sinai desert.

Haile ended up paying a total of $7,100 to get on a boat heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa. But the account of his harrowing journey does not deter Adonay and his friends in Asmara. “We would all leave tomorrow if we had the money,” they say.

Source=https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/28/eritrea-military-service-life-people-left-behind

 

 

A version of this article first appearedin The Africa Report

21 SEPTEMBER 2016

The annual meeting of the SI Presidium in conjunction with the high-level segment of the United Nations General Assembly took place on 21 September in New York, the eighth such occasion since 2008. The agenda of the meeting focused on the role of the social democratic movement in promoting collective action to confront prevailing challenges to security, democracy and sustainability in different parts of the world and the outcome of the UNGA high-level debate on the crisis of refugees and migrants.

The major focus of exchanges was the recently concluded UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, with Presidium members united in their recognition of the urgency of coordinated action in response to the global refugee crisis. Contributions underlined the need for a more equitable sharing of the responsibility for hosting and supporting refugees around the world. At present, the greatest burden of the refugee crisis is being felt by developing countries, which are host to the vast majority of international refugees. For this reason the acceleration of progress towards a global agreement on safe, orderly and regular migration was considered essential.

A number of participants stressed that the international community, and in particular the most developed economies, have a collective responsibility and a duty to the refugees of the world, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the lack of concrete advances in this regard. At the same time, there remains a vital need for concerted action to address the root causes of the global refugee crisis. In this regard, participants underlined the importance of the work of the SI towards conflict resolution and tackling climate change, which are major drivers of global population movements.

Addressing the first agenda item and the contribution that could be made by the social democratic movement in face of the current global challenges, participants called for a combined strategy for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. There was a shared conviction that for the challenges of peace, sustainable development and democracy to be met, social democracy would be required, with the SI an indispensable forum for cooperation in pursuit of common goals and objectives. One year on from the SDG summit, a number of interventions highlighted the continued importance of the Global Goals in the realisation of a greener and more peaceful world with opportunities for all, and the vital importance of ensuring the equal participation of women and men in building a sustainable future for all.

Underdevelopment remains a significant factor to migration, and the contributions of President Alpha Condé of Guinea and President Hage Geingob of Namibia identified the continued need for development assistance in their countries and a more equitable sharing of resources on a global scale. They and others considered that socialists and social democrats were uniquely placed to address the gaps between rich and poor, and redress the problems of poverty and economic injustice.

In accordance with the mandate given by the last SI Council in Geneva in July 2016, the Presidium had the responsibility of agreeing a venue for the forthcoming XXV SI Congress. The Secretary General reported that in discussions he had held with the leadership of the SI member party in Colombia, they had expressed the willingness of their party to host the Congress. This would be in line with the established practice within the SI of rotating the regional location of its Council and Congress meetings in order to reflect the global scope of the organisation. He outlined the significance of bringing together the global social democratic family in Colombia, at a historic moment for the country, as a result of the agreement reached between the government and the FARC guerrillas to bring to an end over 50 years of armed conflict. The presence of the SI in Colombia would be a concrete expression of the support of the movement for the courageous decision to bring peace to the country and a continued commitment to the post-conflict process of disarmament and reconciliation.

The proposal to hold the Congress in the city of Cartagena de Indias was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Presidium, with the meeting to be scheduled for the first months of 2017 following consultation with the hosts. The symbolism of the Congress venue and its timing will be reflected by the inclusion of peace as one of the main themes of the Congress, with reference to the successful peace process in Colombia and the need for advances towards peace in other conflicts around the world. The Congress will also focus, as another main theme, on the issue of inequality in the world economy, whose current impact has been a subject of recent work by the SI. Policy proposals on this theme will be presented to the Congress in a report from the SI Commission on Inequality, which is working on concrete initiatives for the reduction of inequality within and between nations.

The Presidium was updated on the response of the FSLN to the concerns transmitted by the SI to the party in regard to the dismissal by the National Electoral Commission of sixteen opposition parliamentarians and twelve alternates in Nicaragua. The Presidium noted that this matter would be further examined and addressed by the relevant statutory organs of the SI.

The current situation in Guatemala was raised, highlighting that a recent decree issued by President Morales restricted fundamental freedoms and rights.

Members of the SI Presidium were joined by President Alpha Condé (Guinea) and President Hage Geingob (Namibia), and SI Honorary President Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland. Also present was António Guterres, former SI president and ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The meeting was chaired by SI President George Papandreou alongside Secretary General Luis Ayala, with the participation of SI vice-presidents Sükhbaataryn Batbold (Mongolia), Victor Benoit (Haiti), Ousmane Tanor Dieng (Senegal), Elio Di Rupo (Belgium), Alfred Gusenbauer (Austria), Eero Heinäluoma (Finland), Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana (Namibia), Bernal Jimenez (Costa Rica), Chantal Kambiwa (Cameroon), Marian Lupu (Moldova), Rafael Michelini (Uruguay), Mario Nalpatian (Armenia) Umut Oran (Turkey), Julião Mateus Paulo (Angola), Sandra Torres (Guatemala) and Ouaffa Hajji (ex-officio vice-president, SIW). Representatives of the governments of Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic and Montenegro were also present.

On the trail of African migrant smugglers

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 10:33 Written by

 

 
 

Der Spiegel's English-language website hasa detailed investigative report7on the lucrative migrant-smuggling business in Africa. The report uncovers key smuggling routes from East Africa to Germany, and describes the brutal, inhuman conditions that migrants endure on their journey abroad. Here's an excerpt:

There are many migrant smugglers who brag openly about their excellent relations with the Libyan police and claim that they can even get anyone out of prison simply by buying off law enforcement officers. When asked about such claims, Hussam says that the phenomenon doubtlessly exists in Libya, but not within his unit.

"Ermias is an Ethiopian with Eritrean citizenship and dresses inconspicuously in jeans and a T-shirt," says Yonas, a former intermediary for Ghermay who stands almost two meters (6' 7") tall. Ever since Tarik al-Sika arrested him at his workplace -- in the cafeteria of the Eritrean Embassy in Tripoli -- several months ago, Yonas, whose name was changed for this story, has been cooperating with Libyan special forces. On the day of our visit, he was presented as an important witness. Yonas says that he used to earn 50 dinars, around 30 euros ($33), for every Eritrean refugee he referred to Ghermay -- and that some of them were aboard the vessel that sank off the coast of Lampedusa. On the night of the accident, Yonas says, "Ermias slid a passenger list under the door of the Eritrean Embassy so that their families could be informed" -- a cold-blooded move that Ghermay is proud of, according to the logs of intercepted phone calls. The relatives of the victims, most of whom came from Eritrea, were thus promptly "informed," he gloated. It's the kind of gesture that is good for business.

"Immediately afterwards, I called him and set up a meeting in the cafeteria. I wanted to get him to pay compensation to the families," Yonas says. "He actually turned up, but in the end, he only returned the price for the voyage. Nobody got any more than that."

The refugees have only themselves to blame for their deaths, Ghermay said in a telephone call to a migrant smuggler from Sudan, adding that they didn't follow his instructions and carelessly caused the boat to capsize. He insisted that he had a clear conscience. "If I followed the rules and they died anyway, then it's fate," Ghermay said.

The man from Sudan agreed: "There is no appeal against God's judgment."

Image: The remains of a refugee boat seen on the beach in Zuwara, Libya in August of 2016. ViaDer Spiegel.

Source=http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/on-the-trail-of-african-migrant-smugglers/4920/1

 

 

APPG on Diaspora, Development and Migration (DDM), APPG on Refugees and the Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN)

Chair: Baroness Young of Hornsey Speakers: Dr Kibreab Gaim, Dr Lul Seyoum, Dr Jonathan Campbell, Michela Wrong and Dr Heaven Crawley

Monday, 12 September 2016 16.00-17.30, Committee Room 16 House of Commons

This panel discussion was organised to look at the uneven response to refugees arriving in Europe with a particular focus on those originating from Eritrea. 

This event was chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, co-chair of APPG DDM, who expressed her gratitude to the APPG on Refugees and the collaboration with the Migrants’ Rights Network to organise the event. Baroness Young highlighted the importance of gaining a sense of forward movement within this very complex, difficult and highly politicised subject.  She hoped that the event would be positive, in the sense that solutions and recommendations might develop from the discussion. Baroness Young explained that part of the reason for establishing the APPG DDM is to try and reframe the way we think about these issues. She expressed the way refugees are represented in the media and other spaces is problematic. This event would aim to explore why there is such an 'uneven' response to refugees arriving in Europe, with particular focus on those originating from Eritrea, and to also raise awareness about how diaspora communities can contribute to solutions.

Dr Kibreab Gaim - Research Professor at London South Bank University

Dr Gaim focussed on assessing why post-independence Eritrea is one of the major refugee producing countries in the world. He also set out to address how those who fled Eritrea had been received by the European Union, and why the concerning policy in the UK had suddenly changed.  

Dr Gaim explained that the major driver of forced migration from Eritrea is the indefinite National Service. The National Service, when first introduced, required all Eritrean citizens between the ages of 18 - 40 to serve for 18 months as a strategy to strengthen their country, which was initially popular among Eritreans. However, the service soon became open-ended and now lies at the heart of the cause of forced migration. Dr Gaim emphasised that once an individual joins, they are not allowed to leave and are not paid properly- thereby becoming a slave of the state. 

Currently in Eritrea, the State controls economic activity, there are no opposition parties and no opposition politics is tolerated. People who flee are considered traitors. Immigration is only possible once an exit visa has been obtained from the government which is very difficult to obtain and often denied.

The indefinite National Service has been equated with forced labour, and the UN equates forced labour to a modern form of slavery, which Dr Gaim emphasised as a motive for Eritreans who are fleeing. Dr Gaim also stated that up to 90% of Eritrean refugees are aged between18-24; further demonstrating the ational service as a driving force of migration. 

Dr Gaim went on to talk about the sudden change of UK policy, particularly after March 2015. He elaborated that the change in UK policy suggests that the situation in Eritrea had improved, implying violations of human rights might have ceased, when in fact there was no change in Eritrea - "the dismal state prevails". Dr Gaim stated that the changes in the UK's policy are a result of 'fact-finding' missions in Eritrea. He explained that in 2014, Danish authorities sent three civil servants on a 'fact-finding' mission to Eritrea as a response to a sudden, dramatic increase in the number of Eritreans arriving in Denmark. During Denmark's election year the leading party panicked as the right wing began to gain support in response to rising levels of migrants arriving. Dr Gaim suggests, the 'fact-finders' were actually going to Eritrea to find anything they could to support high-level rejection of asylum, this was later met with a lot of criticism which led to the Danish Government dropping the enquiry and discrediting the report. 

Surprisingly however, the UK government then adopted all of the recommendations of the Danish Immigration Service, basing its updated policy on their recycled ideas. Dr Gaim remarked that the UK government could have used reliable information from sources such as the UN Commission but instead chose to base their new policy exclusively on the Danish report. The UK currently has a new policy that is not substantially different from the one they had before.

In summary, Dr Gaim's presentation emphasised the indefinite National Service in Eritrea as the main force of migration. He stressed that the UK's 2014 policy was based on the discredited work of a Danish 'fact-finding' mission in Eritrea, which had aimed to find evidence that would justify denying Eritreans asylum in Europe.

Dr Lul Seyoum - spokesperson, influencer, fighter for women's rights and founder and director of International Centre of Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers ICERAS 

Dr Seyoum began her presentation with a reflective moment to remember all those who have perished on their way to safety. She explained that in that short pause, 10 people across the world had fled their countries; one person flees their country every three seconds. She then went on to tell the story of the Lampedusa Ship Wreck of 2013, where over 350 people died, including 270 Eritreans. Dr Seyoum elaborated on how the uneven response to refugees is due to the crisis often being identified with numbers, with the lives lost becoming mere statistics. To counteract this, she told the personal story of Helen, a mother of 3 children who perished at sea while travelling to Sweden to find freedom, security and a better future. 

Dr Seyoum went on to explain the work of ICERAS, the International Centre of Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers. She stressed that it is important to understand that not all refugees come to the UK; in the West the largest number go to Germany and then the USA, with 86% of refugees migrating to developing countries. 

Dr Seyoum finished by emphasising the need for a broader and brighter picture. We must remember that many children perished before and after the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, a child whose body was photographed being carried from the sea by his distressed father - images which captured public sympathies and increased public empathy towards Syrian refugees. 60 million displaced people worldwide should prompt us to ask ourselves what our role is. If we are to avoid such loses then there should be full engagement from all of us. She ended her presentation with a quote by Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end when we are silent about things that matter".  

Dr Jonathan Campbell - Researcher at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Dr Campbell's research has recently focused on the British Asylum System although today he aimed to provide a very clear trajectory of Home Office Policy, beginning from 2013. Dr Campbell explained that the Home Office's concern with Eritrea dates back to 2013, at the time when large numbers of 'migrants' were crossing the Mediterranean, many trying to move North into central Europe, to Calais and then the UK. Around this time was also the emergence of the British Government's Policy, nicknamed by the UK's European colleagues as an "à la carte" approach, in which the UK would pick and chose which groups of migrants or policies to support and which to neglect. This led to a situation whereby the UK in effect withdrew from dealing with the migrant crisis in Europe. Dr Jonathon stated that this withdrawal of the UK then contributed to the broader 'crisis' in Europe. 

A significant number of Syrian refugees are largely recognised by the UNHCR as refugees due to the Middle Eastern conflict, ultimately because most countries in Europe were engaged with that conflict in some way. As the 'migrant crisis' developed, it became clearer however that among the Syrians were a large number of Eritrean nationals, all of whom had been able to secure some sort of status or protection. This situation then raised concern across Europe - starting in Denmark, progressing to Norway and then the UK. 

Dr Campbell went on to explain the process of the Danish 'fact-finding' mission, as Dr Gaim had outlined earlier in the discussion. He pointed out how in Eritrea there was no high-level political violence visible - as was the case with Syria. In 2014, the Danish government sent researchers to Eritrea to discover what was driving the migration. As Dr Gaim had outlined previously, Dr Campbell stressed that the research of these missions was not academic in any way. The researchers had consulted with officials which is problematic as they themselves are complicit in the human rights violations which Eritreans are fleeing.

Dr Campbell explained that once the reports were published, the purpose of these missions became very clear; to prevent Eritreans from entering Europe. The missions would usually take the form of very short visits, mainly only to the capital of Eritrea, Asmara, and would usually only involve speaking to government officials. The investigators do not move around the country and crucially have no access to sites such as detention centres and prisons. These factors combined mean that the principal source of information for the tours is the information provided by high level Eritrean officials. So, with the exception of the latest policy (which is still largely dependent on this kind of research), all the 'fact-finding' missions are dependent on anonymous Eritrean officials, and thus cannot be verified. Nonetheless, the Danish, Norwegian and UK reports are all based on such anonymised reports, and all conclude that it is safe (for Eritreans) to go home. Dr Campbell argues that the Home Office officials are seemingly seeking to do anything to prevent refugees from entering Europe.

Following on from the conclusion that it is safe for Eritreans to return home, the UK government argues that all Eritreans need to do is 'regularise' the situation with the Eritrean Government. The Home Office states that individuals returning to Eritrea simply have to pay a 2% income tax on their income earned overseas, and sign a 'letter of apology' at an Eritrean embassy. Dr Campbell outlined that the individuals returning to Eritrea even have to pay the 2% tax on any benefits or asylum seekers allowance and show all receipts at an embassy (i.e. even if the individual did not earn wages). The UK Home Office argue that if Eritreans 'regularise' themselves with officials in Asmara, no reprisals will be taken against them. The Eritrean government maintains that it is improving the National Service by increasing the pay and reducing the contracted duration of service. 

The UK Home Office say that the Eritrean Government is not acting in a way that contradicts the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in terms of how nationals are treated upon their return to the country. However, Dr Campbell argues that after three years of these promises, there is no evidence of this. A large problem is there is no independent monitor of human rights in Eritrea, meaning that there is no independent organisation to provide information on what is actually happening, no independent access to the detention centres or prisons, and there have certainly been no changes in Eritrean policy.  

He explains that over the last 2 years, the UK Home Office has in effect sought to create its own objective evidence and has published in excess of 600 pages of evidence in the policy since early 2014. 

Dr Campbell concluded by emphasising that things are not alright. The Home Office is deliberately creating an illusion, in an attempt to create objective evidence for immigration officials to use as a basis for rejecting asylum. The situation in Eritrea has been made very clear; we are refusing to allow people their freedom of movement across the planet. Eritreans are thus being rejected refugee status and often being forced to live destitute in the streets. 

Michela Wrong - Journalist and Author who has spent almost two decades reporting on Africa

Michela began by paying respect to the work that has been done by all the other speakers to help refugees across the world. She went on to say that her line of work and expertise can offer something different to the discourse. Michela finds that we talk a lot about the refugee crisis, often in a way that the public are so concerned with the crisis and what's happening with the individuals, that we strip the account of a political, geo-strategic and historical context - and this is what she can bring. 

Michela explained that the Eritrean government is not as popular as it once was - when she first visited Eritrea in the 1990s - but that it certainly enjoys some popularity, and every government needs a narrative with which it presents its case, to its public and to the West. Many people remark on the hostility of the Eritrean government towards the West, without considering that there might be a reason for that, which is what she wanted to remind

us of. She added that if we don't attempt to see things from that other perspective then we are likely to find a puzzling hole at the heart of the situation.

Michela shared her understanding that Eritrean refugees are young and often fleeing military service, but that nobody has explored how the government actually justifies enforcing the military service. Her work in Eritrea began in 1996, when the government that had been in power for three years and had huge support from the population after winning independence. Contrasting that to today, the country has an enormous, totally 'disproportionate' army with open-ended military service - and there is some historical reason for that.

She went on to talk about the 1998-2000 'new war' that broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over a border dispute, highlighting that up until then the two countries and their rebel movements got on quite well. Going back to war with one another was a huge shock to the communities, and over 100,000 people died (on both sides). Following that, an international agreement allocated some parts of the disputed territory to Ethiopia, and other parts to Eritrea. This was incredibly important - politically and emotionally. 

Ethiopia has never since moved its troops out of the area, which Michela suggested may be because they would have found that move too humiliating. Essentially there has now been a 16 year stand-off between the countries, involving many tense moments - the worst of which was in June 2016 when several hundred people on both sides were killed. Michela feels that the Eritrean population are extremely worried about the situation and the prospect of having another major war. 

The Eritrean government argues that they are being occupied by Ethiopia and so in order to keep Ethiopia from increasing their hold on Eritrean territory, anyone who can take up arms must come to the defence of the nation. Michela suggested that the Eritrean government would argue that elements of society such as democracy, human rights and the free press are luxuries that cannot be afforded. She elaborated that within this narrative of the Eritrean government's perspective, the West is generally viewed as being hostile and uncomprehending, as well as being in the wrong as it has done nothing to put pressure on Ethiopia to observe the international border ruling. 

So, the question then becomes whether or not this reasoning is enough to justify the onerous, endless military service. Michela highlighted that analysts argue that this is not a way to win a war; if Eritrea are invaded by Ethiopia- their large, demoralised, young and unhappy army, would not be very effective at defending their country.  Smaller, well-paid, voluntary armies are much more effective at winning wars.

Michela finished by introducing the idea that every government in Africa - Eritrea included - is fearful of the Arab Spring, and perhaps part of the reason for the regime in Asmara is crowd control. By enforcing a patriarchal duty in the population and require them to defend their country, they are prevented from becoming a threat to the regime.

Dr Heaven Crawley - Professor of International Migration at Coventry University 

Dr Crawley began by stating that she hoped to shed light on the politics of the narrative in relation to the current 'crisis', because the crisis as experienced here in the UK is very different to the narrative experienced elsewhere. She focused on the way that certain assumptions underpin policy.

Dr Crawley argued that all across Europe throughout the 'migrant crisis', assumptions haven't shifted over time - they have just become more entrenched. The sort of assumptions that were underpinning policy at the beginning of the 1990s still exist. One assumption about the dynamics of migration is to do with the linearity of movement - the idea that people just move from A to B, for example from Asmara to London. 

There is a fundamental disconnect, which is not new, between how European policy makers (including in the UK) understand and conceptualise forced migration, and how they then understand the process by which people come to be in this situation. 

Dr Crawley suggested that even though we have this knowledge and understanding about what's going on in these areas (such as Eritrea and Syria), there remains an underpinning scepticism about why people have truly left their countries. Dr Crawley argued that underpinning every conversation about forced migration is the assumption that

people are moving by choice. Even in conversations about Syria, which have in some ways received a preferential treatment in the media, and despite knowing what we know about what has happened in Homs, there remains the assumption that the refugees could have done something else - they did not have to make this journey.

Dr Crawley then spoke about her research, which involved interviewing 500 people who had landed in Greece or Italy over the course of five months. They had aimed to gain more of an understanding of the back-story of the crisis, and a perspective that is not so centred on the Mediterranean. Dr Crawley emphasised that the Western and UK media covering the crisis is often fixated with the border into Europe, and so loses the historical and global context of the situation.

During the interviews the researchers spoke to 30 Eritreans and it was indeed very clear that the primary driver for migration is the forced indefinite military service, with two thirds of interviewees speaking specifically of this. Another key factor is that it is not at all easy to leave Eritrea as an exit visa must be obtained to do so and it is very difficult to be granted one. As a result of this, smugglers are used to get people out of Eritrea. An assumption is often that smugglers are only used to get people in to countries, but in Dr Crawley's research it became clear that most people had been involved with smugglers in order to get out of countries (as is the case for Eritrea and Syria). It was also evident that the majority of refugees had experienced violence and witnessed death during their departure and journey. Dr Crawley found that people's journeys commonly take years as people get held up in places like Sudan and Libya. Usually in this scenario people try to make a life for themselves but often don't succeed. People need livelihoods, and when they can't find that (such as in Libya), they think that Europe might offer them something different.

This led on to Dr Crawley explaining that the idea of 'the pull of Europe' is undermined by all of her research. There is an assumption for example that if a country starts granting asylum to lots of Eritreans, then that will cause many more Eritreans to come. She argued that actually people don't necessarily find out that information. In her research, the most important factor influencing where people migrate to is family. If displaced people have family members or friends who can support and help them to re-establish their lives, then that makes the difference. This is why when refugees are occasionally offered relocation places such as Poland they often say no - as they do not have any family or friends there to help them rebuild their lives.

Final Remarks

 Dr Gaim: Ethiopia has defied the will of the international community; the EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission) ruling was supposed to be final and was supported by the EU, UN and US government. The question that Eritreans need to ask is whether or not keeping them in arms is likely to improve the defence capability of the country or not. The Eritrean government is eroding the defence and security of the country

 We should campaign against the occupation of Eritrea, and remind ourselves that the international community is not a charitable community, it is a self interest community

 Dr Campbell: no Eritrean has ever gained asylum in Israel, Israel would view them as 'traitors'. Israel is currently using the UK Home Office policy to refuse Eritreans, we must recognise the impact of regional and global politics

 Dr Crawley: we must challenge the assumptions that underpin policy and reflect on the dichotomy that exists between 'refugee' and 'economic migrant' status   Need to recognise the complexity of the problem, we like to contain the problem as far away from us but this is not going away

 Dr Seyoum: it is time to view refugees as people who are our tomorrow - they will make a positive difference to our ageing populations in

Mon Sep 26, 2016 11:02am GMT
 
 
 

Nevsun, which had revenues of $357 million in 2015, denies the allegations and touts its mine as a model of responsible development. In its own legal filings, it says the Eritrean military never provided labor to the mine. Even if it did, the company argues, Nevsun was not directly responsible for employing the workers.

The Canadian company owns 60 percent of the Bisha Mining Share Company (BMSC), which owns and operates the mine, and the Eritrean state owns the remaining 40 percent. BMSC in turn hired Segen, an Eritrean government firm, to do construction work at the mine.

Bemnet says he worked for Segen, not Nevsun. But his lawyers say Nevsun should be held responsible for what happened at the mine, alleging Nevsun had authority over Segen and did not take reasonable steps to prevent mistreatment of workers.

Todd Romaine, Nevsun's vice president of corporate social responsibility, denied the allegations and said in a written statement that the company "will vigorously defend itself in court." He said BMSC is "an employer of choice" in Eritrea and provides "well-paying, intrinsically rewarding jobs for local people ... The company has made a significant financial contribution to the country in terms of taxation, royalties, local employment (and) supply chain."

Romaine said Nevsun has a screening process to ensure that no conscripts work at the mine. "Nevsun is a force for good in Eritrea," he said.

Nevsun also says that if its prohibition against the use of conscripts was ever breached, state-controlled Segen was to blame. It says that it had been obliged by the Eritrean government to use Segen to build the mine, and that Nevsun had no control over Segen. Reuters tried to contact Segen via telephone and email, but received no comment.

Alem Kibreab, director-general of Eritrea's Department of Mines, said no conscripts worked at Bisha, and that some migrants made up stories of mistreatment in the hope of gaining permission to stay in Europe.

In affidavits filed with the Canadian court, several workers from the mine have backed up Nevsun. Kahsay Gebremichael, a foreman with Segen, said that he had worked at Bisha for seven years, by choice. "I was not forced to work at the Bisha Mine by anyone. I can quit my job if I want to," he said in an affidavit filed in November 2015.

Bemnet and the other former workers involved in the lawsuit were living in Ethiopia, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland when they swore affidavits in 2014 and 2015. Reuters was unable to contact them and their lawyers declined to make them available for interviews, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.

But Reuters has reviewed the former workers' detailed allegations and, while their case is not new, this article draws on court records that have not been previously reported, including Bemnet's affidavit. It also draws on accounts of two former foreign workers who helped build the mine: One said employees of Segen endured tough conditions in 2009 and 2010, working without adequate food, water or shelter.

The Eritrean government dismisses criticism of its national service program as politically motivated and biased. Government officials deny that national service involves forced labor and say a program to improve pay began in mid-2015. They insist conscription remains vital for the security of the nation, which only secured independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after decades of conflict.

NATION BUILDING

Bemnet spent his first weeks of military training at a camp called Wia, near the Red Sea, where he slept on the ground in the open, according to his affidavit. Next he was moved to a desolate stretch of coastline, where he worked seven days a week, completing more training, gathering large stones and building houses. He was still there in September 2006, when, halfway around the world, then Nevsun Chief Executive John Clarke pitched Eritrea to mining investors at one of the industry's top conferences, the Denver Gold Forum.

Canada is home to hundreds of small mining companies, many exploring for gold both in Canada and around the world. Staffed by a few executives and a small board of directors, these companies buy mineral claims and raise a few million dollars at a time to pay for exploratory drilling. One strategy is to focus on countries where poor infrastructure, skill shortages or political unrest have made mining difficult, leaving rich deposits untouched.

Clarke's presentation focused on Gash Barka, a region in western Eritrea where gold was mined during the colonial era. No one had built or operated a mine in the country for decades because of the risk of conflict and fears the government might expropriate assets. So Clarke promoted the project, which he called Bisha, by emphasising Eritrea's good roads and well-educated people.

"Given that it is a poor country, they're just using their resources extremely well, including their youngsters, who do a couple years national service after university, everybody contributing to nation building," he said, in a presentation that until recently was available online.

Clarke, who is no longer with Nevsun, did not respond to requests for comment.

National service in Eritrea, which still fears attack from its far larger neighbor Ethiopia, has no set length, according to the government. The country has been ruled by former Marxist guerrilla leader Isaias Afwerki since independence. In 1998, in the midst of a border war with Ethiopia, Isaias declared a state of emergency and extended national service.

Eritrea's Information Minister, Yemane Ghebremeskel, told Reuters that the length of national service had originally been 18 months, but that it had been "prolonged" because of border tensions with Ethiopia. He did not specify how long national service now lasts.

A U.N. commission charged with investigating human rights abuses in Eritrea said in a June 2015 report that all sectors of the Eritrean economy rely on conscripts. Most citizens are conscripted before they finish high school, and undergo limited military training before being assigned to jobs. Some are sent to work in construction or farming, or as civil servants or engineers. In a statement, Eritrea said the allegations of human rights abuses are "totally unfounded and devoid of all merit."

"CONTINUOUSLY HUNGRY"

By September 2008, the Bisha mine had its permits and work was underway at the site. As mining companies often do, Nevsun hired an engineering, procurement and construction management firm to run construction, selecting a South African company called Senet. One of Senet's employees was Mike Goosen, a civil construction supervisor who arrived in 2009.

Day to day, Goosen and other Senet staff supervised Segen, the Eritrean government-owned contractor brought in to do construction work. While Senet declined to comment on its work at Bisha, citing the ongoing legal action, Goosen told Reuters he became friendly with some Segen workers, though they lived some distance from the main camp. He visited their camp and was alarmed by the conditions he found. None of the buildings had proper windows or doors. Workers slept on the floor, with no mosquito nets. "We had a lot of them going down with malaria," he told Reuters.

The workers were "continuously hungry," he said, and subsisted on lentil soup and bread. Drinking water was left in the hot sun all day. Goosen said he asked cooks at the main camp to set aside leftover food for Segen workers but Segen managers told him to stop.

In affidavits filed to support the lawsuit against Nevsun, former Eritrean workers described rations of lentil soup and bread. "We were always tired and hungry, and fell ill very often," reads the affidavit of Mihretab Yemane Tekle, who said he worked at the Bisha mine from February to October 2010, and now has refugee status in Ethiopia. "Many conscripts caught malaria at Bisha."

In an affidavit filed in June 2014, Segen manager Abadi Gebremeskel Alemayo described the death of a worker named Berhane, who he said was a conscript.

"One day, he was building partitions in the residences for the foreign workers, and he just collapsed," he said. "In his report, the doctor said it was heat stroke. I buried him myself - I took his body to his village and buried it."

Abadi, a safety officer at Bisha, said in his affidavit that he knew some of the workers were conscripts because he attended a Segen meeting in mid-2009 at which the use of conscripts was discussed. Reuters was unable to contact Abadi for comment.

ESCAPE

Segen workers were on site in significant numbers during the mine's initial construction from 2008 to 2011. In February 2009, for example, more than half the workers on site were from Segen, according to a Senet progress report filed with the Canadian court.

In a 2013 press release, Nevsun said it first heard allegations that conscripts were working at Bisha in early 2009. In response, Nevsun instructed Senet to change Segen's contracts to explicitly prohibit the use of national service members. Nevsun also told Senet to start screening workers to ensure there were no conscripts at the mine. Court filings from Senet say screening began in May 2009; the system involved workers providing certificates to show they had finished national service.

It is unclear how effective the screening was, said a foreign worker who was on site at the time and spoke on condition of anonymity. Segen would put off filing paperwork, telling Senet that its workers were no one else's business. When papers did arrive, they were photocopies of Eritrean documents that no one outside Segen understood because they were written in the local language of Tigrinya, the foreign worker said.

In an affidavit for the court case, Senet project director Pieter Theron described the screening process, and said that as far as he knew, the Eritrean military was not involved in building Bisha. Theron declined requests for comment. In his affidavit, he said allegations about harsh working conditions were not consistent with his observations: "It is simply not the case that individuals worked in dangerous conditions and were often injured or ill."

Bemnet arrived at Bisha with the rest of his military unit in February 2010, according to his affidavit. He was told to take off his military uniform, and given grey coveralls to wear, with "Segen" across the back. An officer laid out some rules for his time at Bisha. He was not to tell anyone that he was a national service member. If asked about his pay he should say he was being paid $21 to $22 per day. He would actually be paid 450 nakfa per month, about $1 a day, according to the legal claim.

Bemnet and other conscripts were sometimes allowed to spend time in a nearby town. One Sunday in July 2010, he stayed late in town, eating and drinking with a friend, according to his affidavit. In the early hours, a group of military men came to retrieve him. Bemnet said they accused him of trying to desert and leave Eritrea. He was tied up with his friend, he said, with only short breaks for five days, and then sent to prison.

Bemnet said he was not sent back to Bisha after his release in November 2010, but remained in national service. In 2011, stationed near the Ethiopian border, he saw a chance to escape and swam across a river with two other men. From Ethiopia, Bemnet traveled to Sudan, Libya and across the Mediterranean to Italy. Like thousands of other Eritreans, he applied for asylum in Germany.

Many Eritreans aiming for Europe cross the Sahara into Libya, risking death by dehydration, starvation and violence in the desert. In Libya, some are kidnapped by Islamic State, and executed or enslaved before they can attempt to cross the Mediterranean. The United Nations refugee agency reported that 11,564 Eritreans made it to Italy in the first seven months of 2016. That was more than from any country other than Nigeria.

REGRET

In 2013, Human Rights Watch published a report about the alleged use of conscripts at Bisha. Anticipating the report, Nevsun sent out a press release that expressed "regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts ... in the early part of the Bisha mine's construction phase." It hired Lloyd Lipsett, a Canadian human rights lawyer, to assess the mine.

Lipsett's reports have focused on the period since he was hired. In a 2015 report he said he had found nothing to corroborate allegations against the company, but that it was difficult to draw conclusions about anything before 2013.

In an interview, Lipsett said there were limits to what he could do and how reliable witnesses were. "It's hard in a country like Eritrea where there is, I think, a plausible and potential risk that people may feel intimidated or be threatened with reprisal," he said. "I think you just have to work at it, and see what the weight of the evidence points to ... If someone is directly lying, I can't say that I will always catch that."

In February, Nevsun invited Reuters to visit the mine and interview managers and government officials on site and in Eritrea's capital, Asmara. During that tour, Romaine, the company's vice president for corporate social responsibility, said: "We take all allegations very seriously, but to date, based on all our extensive investigations, we have not found any corroborating evidence to support the allegations being made."

(Martell reported from Toronto, Blair from Asmara; Additional reporting by Jim Morris and Nicole Mordant in Vancouver, and Selam Gebrekidan in New York; Editing By Richard Woods and Simon Robinson)

Source=http://af.reuters.com/article/eritreaNews/idAFL3N1BY3I4?pageNumber=6&virtualBrandChannel=0

Inside Eritrea's exodus

Monday, 26 September 2016 11:36 Written by
Posted on Monday, 26 September 2016 09:32

 

By Mark Anderson in Asmara
Migrants, most of them from Eritrea, jump into the water from a crowded wooden boat as they are helped by members of an NGO during a rescue operation at the Mediterranean sea, about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya. Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP/SIPA

MIGRANTS, MOST OF THEM FROM ERITREA, JUMP INTO THE WATER FROM A CROWDED WOODEN BOAT AS THEY ARE HELPED BY MEMBERS OF AN NGO DURING A RESCUE OPERATION AT THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA, ABOUT 13 MILES NORTH OF SABRATHA, LIBYA. PHOTO: EMILIO MORENATTI/AP/SIPA

The Africa Report gains rare access to Eritrea, where tough living conditions are pushing young people out of the country and into perilous journeys to neighbouring countries and beyond.

Outside a cafe on the crossroads of a busy intersection in Asmara, three 25 year olds sip macchiatos and catch up on the latest gossip in the bright morning sunshine. Punctuated by sips of coffee and drags on cigarettes, the conversation soon turns to people who have ‘skipped’, a term used for those who have fled from Eritrea’s national service programme.

“Between us, we probably know about 300 people who have skipped in the last few years,” says Birhane, 25, who works as a mechanic in a government-owned garage. “They are leaving because we have to do what the government tells us to do.”

When Birhane, Henok and Adonay were born in 1991, Eritrea had just gained independence from Ethiopia. Liberation struggle leader Isaias Afewerki – and current president – had commanded a rebel group that seized control of the country from Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. At the outset of independence, many people across Eritrea were optimistic about their future.

Migration crisis

Today, the atmosphere in Asmara is markedly different than it was at the dawn of Eritrea's independence. A bloody border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000 inflicted massive human and economic damage to the country. The threat of renewed conflict hangs heavily over the government in Asmara.

Buses, bicycles and ageing European cars dot the roads of the capital. Its well-preserved Italian colonial heritage can be seen everywhere: from the espresso-sipping patrons lounging on terraces to the world-famous art deco architecture.

More than a dozen people interviewed on the streets of Asmara said they are desperately gathering cash to pay forsigre dob(a border crossing). Eritrea is now in the throes of a migration crisis.

Gaim Kibreab, a professor of refugee studies at London’s South Bank University, says Eritrea is the world’s “fastest-emptying nation”. About 400,000 people are estimated to have left Eritrea in the past decade. The United Nations (UN) and human rights activists estimate that as many as 5,000 Eritreans flee the country illegally every month. The Eritrean government says the real number is closer to 1,000 per month because Ethiopians often pretend to be Eritrean when seeking asylum abroad.

It is not just young people leaving. Middle-aged professionals are giving up on the country as well. “I know of thousands of people who have left,” says Demsas, 49, who has a master’s degree from a Western country, as he strolls down one of Asmara’s main streets. “We can feel it in Asmara.”

The government acknowledges that people are leaving in droves, but says it is part of an international conspiracy to weaken Eritrea. “The policy of the United States for the past 10 years has been to encourage the migration of Eritreans, especially Eritrean youth and especially Eritrean educated youth,” Yemane Ghebreab, director of political affairs for the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a close advisor to President Isaias, tells The Africa Report.

“If they can encourage migration and especially desertion from the Eritrean army, which has been a main objective of this policy, then they will have achieved their aim of weakening Eritrea,” he says.

For law-abiding Eritreans, it is hard to avoid the national service programme, which involves conscription into the military to work on government projects. Hundreds of soldiers are known to storm neighbourhoods in Asmara every few months. Known as a giffa, the event sees the troops block off traffic and set up a cordon around the area before going house to house in search of people who have not enlisted in national service.

Trapped

With few exceptions, Eritrea’s men and women over the age of 18 are required to work for an indefinite time. The national service programme, which initially lasted 18 months, was extended to an indefinite period during the border war with Ethiopia.

Young Eritreans say they feel trapped by the government. If they are caught deserting from national service, the government hands down brutal punishments. But if they stay, they are resigned to a life earning a monthly wage of 500 nakfa, equal to about $20 on the black market. “All of us are still in national service. We don't get enough [money] to live on,” says Henok.

The government is changing some elements of the national service. Those drafted in 2001 or earlier are being allowed to leave, but even then they are still required to work for the government. The maximum salary if you have been demobilised is 4,000 nakfa, equivalent to $165 on the black market, according to Hagos Ghebrehiwet, the ruling party's director of economic affairs and a close advisor to President Isaias.

The PFDJ realises that national service wages are not enough to live on, says Hagos. "You cannot say [the national service wage] is enough for living, but from what it was and from what we are doing to control inflation – to make the buying power of nakfa higher – this is a big improvement."

Multiple crimes

The UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea said in June that Eritrea’s government has committed crimes against humanity in a bid to “perpetuate the leadership’s rule”. These crimes include enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape and murder.
Eritrea’s government categorically denies the report’s findings. “This is a very biased report that lacks professionalism,” director of political affairs Yemane says. “Eritrea has by far a better record on human rights than many countries.”

Eritrean government officials are quick to point out that Ethiopia has failed to honour the Algiers Agreement, a 2002 peace accord signed by Isaias and Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Under that agreement, Ethiopia is required to withdraw troops from Badme, a contested town between the two countries.

“No one has called for Ethiopia to withdraw from Badme,” says Yemane. “In the long term, it's a failure for the region. If, in 2002, Ethiopia had accepted the decision, normalised its relations with Eritrea and moved forward, it could have had a better situation in which to address the structural problems it faces in the country,” he says referring to popular protests in Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara regions.

“The national service itself [...] is because of [Ethiopian troops on the border],” says Hagos. “All the issues that are raised and are being discussed [about migration] are related to [Ethiopian occupation].”

But on the streets of Asmara, people are skeptical of the real danger that Ethiopia’s government poses to the country. “There is no threat from Ethiopia,” says Birhane. “The government uses that to get us to do what they want.”

Last year, the government announced it would void all currency notes issued before the middle of 2015, saying the new notes are a means to curb counterfeiting and rein in the black market. It also put a limit on the amount of money people could withdraw from their bank accounts, saying it wanted to encourage people to use cheques and mobile-money facilities.

“There is a restriction on cash use; no restriction on expenditure,” says Hagos. “Cash is the basis for illegal activities like human trafficking.” He says people will be able to more widely use debit and credit cards by 2017. But for, now there are not many businesses that accept cheques or credit cards.
Since the introduction of the new currency, the black market exchange rate has been halved.

“With this new currency, people don't have access to their money,” Demsas says, adding that he used to be able to afford to take his family of four out to dinner several times a month. Since the new currency was introduced, he has been struggling to afford basic foodstuffs. “What do they expect us to do?” he asks as he wals past the Bank of Eritrea. “That logo should be turned upside down,” he says.
Wealthy Eritreans can pay high-ranking government officials between $5,000 and $6,000 to be smuggled out of the country and then driven to Khartoum, according to human rights activists Meron Estefanos. The fee for a similar journey across the border with Ethiopia is $2,000 to $3,000, she says.

Kidnapped

For most Eritreans – those who do not have rich friends and relatives overseas – the journey to Europe can take years. Natnael Haile, who now lives in Sweden, says he was drafted into the army at age thirteen. After spending seven years repairing army cars on a desolate military base, he crept out of his dormitory one night in 2008. He paid smugglers $400 to take him into Sudan, where he was kidnapped and sold to nomads in the Sinai Desert. Gangs in the Sinai Desert prey on migrants. They have been found to kidnap and then torture them until their families pay a ransom.

Natnael escaped and went to a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, where he spent three years before trying his luck again. He took the same route to Sudan but ended up staying there for a year and a half before paying $1,600 to travel to Libya. He was kidnapped again and was forced to pay $3,500 to be freed in Tripoli. There, he met Ermias, a Tunisian smuggler who charged $1,600 to travel on a boat that was doomed to sink off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, which is considered a gateway to Europe by many refugees.

The dangerous journey to Europe does not deter many Eritreans. "We would all leave tomorrow if we had the money," says Adonay.

Some names have been changed to protect people's identities.

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com :Inside Eritrea's exodus | East & Horn Africa
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Source=http://www.theafricareport.com/East-Horn-Africa/inside-eritreas-exodus.html

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

September 23, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the European Union (EU) to closely watch Eritrea over gross human rights violations by the regime which Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.

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Eritrean president, Isias Afewerki (AFP Photo)

RSF issued the statement while paying tribute to the 11 Eritrean journalists held indefinitely in inhuman conditions since September 2001.

The 2001 crackdown against journalists in Eritrea came one year after the country ended a bloody war with its larger neighbour, Ethiopia, over border dispute.

On September 2001, some 15 high-ranking officials from the ruling People’s Front for Democracy party wrote a protest letter to President Isaias Afwerki calling him for reform, implement the constitution and conduct national elections.
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The open letter further blames the president for going to war with Ethiopia which claimed the lives of 70,000 people.

They said the war was unnecessary and accused the president of taking actions that were “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The protest letter which shortly led to the arrest of the then known as G-15 was widely published by a number of independent Media leading to arrest of editors of all the independent print media.

The government also shut down all independent media in Eritrea.

This month marks 15 year in jail without charge for the 11 journalists.

A report last year by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea said the regime in Asmara is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations.

The grave human right violations the report said have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country.

With this regard RSF urged the European Union, which is trying to normalize its relations with Asmara, to not close its eyes to actions that constitute crimes against humanity and violations of the Eritrean population’s fundamental rights.

“We also address this message to the EU governments that are negotiating a return to normal relations with Asmara without asking about political prisoners and human rights,” RSF said.

The rights group said at least 15 journalists are currently detained arbitrarily in Eritrea but the number might be higher because no information emerges from the secretive nation.

Extrajudicial killings, widespread torture, sexual slavery are also among right abuses long been reported by right groups.

Western governments have lately shown a clear interest to normalize relations with the reclusive East African nation as part of their strategy to stem a huge flow of Eritrean refugees to European soil.

“The EU cannot close its eyes to the Eritrean government’s countless violations, which a UN Human Rights Council report in June described as ‘crimes against humanity.’ The EU cannot adopt a conciliatory position towards the Afeworki regime” it added.

Among the arrested journalists seven are believed to have died in detention.

“We call on President Afeworki to stop persisting in these arbitrary and repressive practices and to free the journalists who are still imprisoned,” RSF said.

“The freedoms of Eritrea’s citizens have been constantly flouted for the past 15 years on the grounds of national security and the eternal conflict with Ethiopia”

“The president says his priority is development. You cannot have sustainable development without an open society in which the justice system functions and freedoms are respected,” it added.

Eritrea has been ranked last out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index every year for the past eight years.

Referred by right groups as the North Korea of Africa, the Red Sea nation is one of the world’s most repressive states.

Currently there are an estimated 10,000 political prisoners in atrocious conditions in different prison facilities across the country where they remain subjected to different forms of abuses.

(ST)

Source=http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article60330

In this undated photo, we see three young men who have since spent over 22 years of their lives in prison / Photo permission received via JW.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this undated photo, we see three young men who have since spent over 22 years of their lives in prison / Photo permission received via JW.org

James Skye
Published on:23 September 2016

Just teenagers at the time, all three are Jehovah's Witnesses, and they refuse to compromise their integrity.


On September 24, 1994, three young men, all teenagers, were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. Their crime? They refused military service on the grounds of their strongly held religious convictions – an entitlement that ironically, one year later, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reinforced as an acceptable concession that all world nations should adhere to.

Nevertheless, down to this very day, Paulos Eyassu, Negede Teklemariam and Isaac Mogos – all Jehovah’s Witnesses – remain jailed in the Sawa prison camp in the country of #Eritrea, eastern Africa. Without the benefit of any legal framework, the men were detained without cause, without due process and incredulously, have never been formally charged with any crime.

The prisoners have spent their youth behind bars.
The three detainees are all now in the 40s. They have given up the primes of their lives – the chance to wed and start a family – and their opportunity to worship their God shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers. They quietly remain steadfast in their determination to endure for what they know in their hearts is pleasing in God’s eyes.

“It is in Eritrea, more than anywhere else in the world, that Jehovah’s Witnesses experience the most intense persecution,” says a report on the Jehovah’s Witnesses web site, JW.org. The three men are among 55 other Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed in Eritrea for either conscientious objection to conscription military service or for their peaceful religious activity.

By this, all will know you are my disciples...
In a country like Eritrea – where a citizen and a solder and perceived as one and the same – Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in stark contrast. They will endure prison camps, beatings and torture, but they will not join military ranks. They steadfastly believe in “beating their swords into plowshares” and not “learning war anymore,” says the book of Isaiah. Their international brotherhood practices love for one another. (John 13:34, 35) No Jehovah’s Witness would ever be found in a battlefield, looking across at a fellow Witness, waiting to kill one another or anyone else. Jesus said in the verse cited above that all would know who his disciples are, if they have "love among themselves." If only all major religions practiced what they preached.

US Department of State report.
According to a US Department of State commentary on religious freedoms in Eritrea, citizens there are generally “tolerant of those practicing other religions; exceptions included negative societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses… and conscientious objectors to military service based on religious beliefs.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest recognized religious organization whose members welcome disciplinary alternatives as opposed to taking up arms in wars.

The State department report also details how government officials actively and intentionally single out Witnesses of Jehovah and subject them to unlawful actions and targeted discrimination. “Although members of several religious groups were imprisoned in past years for failure to participate in required national military service, the government singled out Jehovah's Witnesses to receive harsher treatment than that given to others,” the report cites, adding that many of the religion’s members have been detained for more than a decade and a half – a term “far beyond the maximum legal penalty of two years for refusing to perform national service.”

In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea have had their business licenses revoked without cause, been evicted out of government-subsidized housing units and been denied common government paperwork needed for travel, such as passports and visas.

Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “It is our fervent hope that the government of Eritrea will release all Witness prisoners, including these three men who have been detained for 20 years, and bring an end to the persecution of our fellow believers.” #News #Jehovahs Witnesses

Source=http://us.blastingnews.com/news/2016/09/imprisoned-for-their-faith-these-three-men-have-been-jailed-in-eritrea-for-over-22-years-001139317.html